Typical prospective student pilots go to the airport, get an introductory flight, talk to a flight instructor about the cost and time required to become a pilot, and, after a quick citizenship check required by the federal government, begin training. It's that simple.
But that won't be the case for would-be student pilots in New York if Gov. George Pataki signs Assembly Bill 2122. Before beginning flight training, the person in New York would need to have a criminal background check and wait for written permission to be sent to his or her flight school of choice. And the flight school must request the criminal history information of any new prospective student.
"This is an extreme and unnecessary measure that would greatly discourage aviation enthusiasts from pursuing their dreams of becoming a pilot," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "This is something we cannot let happen - and that's why AOPA and its more than 14,000 New York members are calling on Gov. Pataki to veto the bill."
In a letter to Pataki, Boyer reminded the governor that AOPA had filed a federal suit against a similar Michigan law, which the state repealed. "We would like to prevent a similar sequence of events in New York," Boyer said.
The bill would give the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) the authority to conduct the background check, and the DCJS commissioner would decide whether the applicant could pursue flight training.
But federal law and court rulings preempt the ability of states to require these kinds of checks on pilots. Not to mention, the federal government already has security measures in place to verify the identities of and perform background checks on non-U.S. citizens wanting to learn to fly in the United States.
As part of those security measures, flight schools and flight instructors are required to go through recurrent security awareness training and to report suspicious activities to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
"Any way you look at it, this bill is a bad move, and we are working to educate Gov. Pataki of the economic consequences," Boyer said. "It would not increase security, and it would only decrease the number of new students in the state and hurt aviation businesses."
June 29, 2006